Locals’ dramatization about suicide among Fringe award winners


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“The Unspoken Word” co-writer Amanda Levesque, at right, consoles Lisa Harris who portrays a very distraught and suicidal person. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- Asheville Fringe Arts Festival acts were each a distinctive expression with one award winner dramatizing depression, with poetry and puppets, dancing and prancing for enhancing the local art-scape with the starkly unhinged and creatively Fringed.

Fringe co-Exec. Dir. Jocelyn Reese, whose husband Jim Julien was ill with flu and missed the festival, equated quirky and captivating Fringe to a “virus. Once you’re struck by it, it stays with you.” She hailed artists’ creativity.

She noted how in new twists, patrons voted for favorites in person (on 75 ballots) in various categories at the closing party, also with 158 people voting online via Facebook for the best and “most ‘Fringey’” act.

The top choice online was “Yuhas: Experiments in Connection: You and I, Us and Them,” while “Pollock: A Frequency Parable” was deemed “Fringiest.” Matthew Marcum of L.A., a Southside Chicago native, unleashed avant-operatic vocals from scatting to primal screaming about counter-cultural painter Jackson Pollock’s works.

He was “painting” with his voice, as a light changed colors onto him (green was most vivid, and violet and orange also shined) and the screen behind him as it flashed images of and related to Pollock. Marcum at times recited Pollock’s words about art, and gestured for greater visual effect.

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Rising dancer Rebecca O’Quinn poses, as Kevin Evans recites his poetry in the Poetry Cabaret at Fringe. Poets rotated about stage. Justin Evans sits, at front. In back are blue-haired “Trash Chameleon” at left, and troupe leader Caleb Beissert at right. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Meredith Yuhas choreographed the online overall winner, which also was performed in The Mothlight in West Asheville. The cast of young ladies was diverse racially and in body shape, as many patrons noted with praise. Yuhas stated the theme is “emergence of the individual into society — examining power structures, diversity, and privilege” by interaction.

Moves included keeping balance while tiptoeing on the back of a dancer, who steadily shifted in a circle. Floor lightning varied. The routine was on much of the Mothlight floor, an area much larger than the venue’s stage.

“The Unspoken Word” beat out Yuhas’ routine and three others for most inspiring piece. Co-writers are Amanda Levesque, who won her fourth Fringe award, and Meredith Roseman Yager. Levesque’s mother, Patty, was among four who shared their personal stories of either nearing suicide or losing someone to it. Becky Morgan portrayed Amanda, who later acted as Laurie Fisher. Lisa Harris, a healing arts therapist, in a vibrant scene clogged out her angst.

Laurie Fisher also told her story, in recorded narrative. She is well known among contra dancers, as a leading fiddler and dance caller with much wit. Hers was the last of three testimonies. She revealed how she sank into self-doubts and depression for two years, but rebounded in part with improved diet and energy. “Profound Gratitude” is the name of Yager’s dance character, to wrap up Fisher’s story.

Dancing impressively reflected moods. Lisa M. Smith, Hannah Clark, and Wann Near portrayed depressed or depressing spirits. David Hayes played guitar, and sang as did Yager. REM’s “Everybody Hurts” was among songs heard, to spice the mood.

“Reach out!” is how Clark implored the audience, for those suicidally depressed and their burdened or frustrated loved ones to seek therapy. In a discussion segment in the end, several from the audience said they were quite inspired to better meet their own challenges, and realize they are “not alone.”

Also inspiring was “The Colors of Dance” by Open Hearts Art Center, collaborating with Asheville Contemporary Dance Theater. Themes were “love, acceptance and courage” as “adults with different capabilities” burst beyond what they initially thought they could do in dancing, singing and playing music.


Gavin Stewart relents to finally accept and reciprocate Vanessa Owen’s advances, in their snazzy “After Party” dance routine. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

The Poetry Cabaret beat Pollock and two others in closing party voting, for pushing boundaries between art forms. The poets this time added stage motion. Four took turns reading their works briefly, rotating to four spots on the small Sly Grog stage.

The reader was still, at a podium at stage right. The one who just read sat to the left, on the stage’s edge at center. Then next spot was back stage left, then back stage right to be on deck to read again.

Further innovation was how Rebecca O’Quinn danced to sounds of pianist Aaron Price, who adapted rhythm and tone on the fly to fit moods of the poetry.

Memorable poetic lines include by Kevin Evans, about balancing being alone with avoiding loneliness. The other poets were troupe leader Caleb Beissert, Justin William Evans, and lady “Trash Chameleon.”

IRTE’s “The Experiment” and AIC’s “Fearless Improv” were both improv acts. IRTE from NYC fielded audience suggestions, and plugged in prepared basic characters into situations and weaved through them on the fly. The setting on opening night was a cave, the next time a space station. Company founder Nannette Deasy, as a daffy scientist, talked the girlfriend of a man killed by the cave creature it was her fault.

The honor for pushing storytelling boundaries went to “Hangry” by McKinley Hughes. It is about social molding of female subservience and timidness.

The Fringe award for pushing boundaries between time and space went to Vivian Nesbitt as “Mother Jones in Heaven” by Si Kahn, over Bob Weick as “Marx in Soho” by Howard Zinn. Both riveting, touring acts were about a revolutionary social and political pioneer of dissent.

Jones got her Irish up, to to speak, delighting crowds as the “Mother of All Agitators” in a quest for workers’ fair wages and safe conditions. Nesbitt hailed Jones’ “eloquence” in her “balls to wall” crusades. Nesbitt sang, with John Dillon on guitar. The third time/space nominee, LaZoom Bus Tour’s “ReSound,” had Sonic Parlour’s theremin within its multi-media piece on “push and pull” dynamics.

Amy Hamilton‘s mini-film “Attempt to Move a Building” won for pushing boundaries with the human body. At one daring point, she dances at the edge of a multi-story rooftop.

The choice for pushing boundaries between daily life and art was “Cameo Cameleon” posturing by dancer Caroline Williford, as a stop on the LaZoom Bus Tour. Other street/alley performers on the tour included the Accidentals with statuesque still posturing, as onlookers tried to goad them into grinning and breaking character. They carried on their craft outside, even in rain.

The “After Party” couple’s dance routine was well-acclaimed, in this category. It fit the triple-header of acts’ theme of public versus private persona. The female’s huge grin dissipates s the party ends. But she encounters an intriguing man, in the after party.

Performers Vanessa Owen and Gavin Stewart, now in Old Fort, have been a couple for seven years. They reversed roles from their real-life courtship, in which he pursued her and she was unsure at first but relished at going with him to a play she likes. She choreographed the dance, in which she oodles over him. He vacillates, often backing off before relenting in the end for a lasting kiss.

Most surprising went to “the dark room,” produced by Emily Thomas. The dance routine reflects light and dimness, power and vulnerability. In one scene, two others unravel a mummy-like, third woman.

A tie for following no rules as between bodied puppetry of “The Falling Love” about self-pity, by Mexico City native Edwin Acosta Salas, and revealing “Stripped” by Phillipe Andre Coquet on clashing and evolving attitudes of six incarcerated, naturalist protestors.

Puppets shined as Keith Shubert’s zany “Total WTF” puppet play won for most hilarious. His fluffy hibernated troll seeks to ascend to cause mischief as the galaxy’s premier “chaos wizard.”

Shubert hosts an encore to Fringe this Friday, Feb. 2 with “The Wham, Bam Puppet Slam!” at The Mothlight at 701 Haywood Road. The three-hour show starts 9 p.m.

Shubert’s personas include Gothic witch Toybox, and Thunderelf. The popular puppeteer said he will do at least one skit himself on Friday. Two other Asheville-based puppeteers in the show Friday are French native Rigel Pawlak, and Salas who recently moved here.

The all-star coast-to-coast puppeteer cast on Friday features 22-year veteran Matt Scott of L.A. with scantily-clad and foul-mouthed Rasputin’s Marionettes of “Freakshow Follies” fame. Others include Lyon Hill of Columbia (S.C.) Marionette Theatre, and Carole D’Agostino of Center for Puppetry Arts of Atlanta Qate Bean of Bean & Bear also from Georgia.

Routines are apt to be “funny, sad, weird, irreverent, thought-provoking, personal, political or down right scary,” Shubert said. Tickets are each $15.

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